Morning. Prayer.
Natural history of a world that never was

The Zohar and the Force


"Its energy surrounds us and binds us," says Yoda to Luke Skywalker, describing the Force. "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!"

We've had a lot of snow days recently in New England. Snow days mean playing outside, sledding, hot cocoa, building things with LEGO -- and also cuddling on the couch and watching movies. We've been showing our son the early Star Wars movies -- the ones which came out when we were kids. Recently that's meant The Empire Strikes Back.

George Lucas is on record as saying that Joseph Campbell's writings about the hero's journey were a major influence on these films. And a quick internet search reveals a lot of essays about the theology implicit in the films, from Star Wars Spirituality in Christianity Today to Monomaniacal in Tablet. What strikes me, watching the movies again now with our son, is how Star Wars makes me think of the germinal work of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar.

We read in the Zohar ממלא כל עלמין וסובב כל עלמין -- "You fill all worlds and surround all worlds." The Zohar also teaches that God clothed the first human beings not in garments of skins, but in garments of light. (The Hebrew word for light אור and the Hebrew word for skin עור are homonyms: they are both pronounced or.) In the world to come, teaches the Zohar, we will wear garments made of light, woven from the mitzvot we performed in this life.

Luminous beings are we. And the Force pervades all worlds. Sounds pretty Zoharic to me.

It turns out I'm not the first person to make that observation either -- Eliezer Segal's The Force is With Us notes a variety of places where Star Wars aligns with kabbalistic teachings: not only the binarism between darkness and light, but also the idea of descending into the darkness in order to defeat it. For that matter, the whole idea of the "Dark Side" is parallel to the kabbalistic idea of the sitra achra, the "other side" to which darkness cleaves.

(I'm ignoring altogether the nonsense about midichlorians which George Lucas inserted into the later films, which turned the Force into something which can be measured in the bloodstream. As far as I'm concerned, that was a retrofitting of the original mythology, and not an interesting one.)

I wonder what our son is taking away from these movies. He probably sees them as an epic battle between good guys and bad guys, which is simplistic but age-appropriate. Someday when he's old enough, I hope he'll be interested in learning some Zohar with me, or with another teacher who speaks to his heart. And maybe when he does, he'll remember these Star Wars movies and smile.